How to conduct an interview: Effective questions and how to answer them

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Last month we discussed if now was the right time to apply for a new role, and we wanted to follow that up with more of a focus on how to conduct an interview.

Focus on both sides of the table and how Barron Williams facilitate and support both clients and candidates in the process.

We recently discussed the finer points of how to conduct video interviews and that was a subject that we were keen to build on. 

Take a more detailed look at the process from a client and candidate perspective. 

We’re on the frontline, and we’re always happy to share our experience on how best to structure, the types of questions clients should be asking, and how candidates should be looking to answer.

The interview is a critical step in the senior executive selection process. 

It must be done effectively!

It enables Barron Williams and our clients to determine if a candidates skills, experience and personality traits match the role brief…

Preparation is essential. 

From all 3 sides – Us, Client & Candidate!

As a client, it is essential that you identify the best candidate match to your brief. Clearly.

You must sell your vision. 

It’s a 2-way process.

As a candidate, you need to focus on the key deliverables of the role brief. 

What it is you need to do to demonstrate that you are the right fit for the role, the client and the culture?

Determine the process vs. understand the process

The starting point in our process is always the role brief.

This is not just a job description… 

The job description is a brief statement that tells the candidate general info about the role. 

It is an HR document, not a sales pitch!

It outlines the nature of the role, responsibilities and requirements.

The purpose of the role brief is to fill in the gaps, read between the lines, establish the type of candidate our client is looking for. 

Deliverables rather than responsibilities.

Experience rather than qualifications.

It lets candidates know exactly what personality traits, skills, experience, education, and abilities are required to perform that role, and allows candidates to match themselves via their CV.

And we always say if a candidate can’t score themselves 8 out of 10 to that role brief, then don’t apply. Or at least call us – we’re happy to discuss – always!

From the role brief, we will work with our clients to identify 4 to 6 critical areas to explore in the interview.

What are the top 2/3 deliverables for the role?

What are the top 2/3 achievements/attributes the candidate should have?

Questions will be designed to help us establish if the candidate is a match to the role brief and the right fit for the role/client.

A good example is the recent General Manager role we covered in this month’s other insight post: Do top executive search firms have the agility to find the top talent?

That search was very much focused on identifying an experienced group level GM with a combination of the relevant Technical/Engineering and Manufacturing/Ops skills, as well as key people management experience.

The client was open to candidates from out of sector but they needed to demonstrate technical proficiency and understanding of the relevant manufacturing processes.

As in this case, a good role brief allowed us to differentiate between high calibre candidates, despite the long long list.

By the time our clients see a CV, we’ll have spoken to each candidate a number of times to establish they’re well-matched to that brief and fully informed about the organisation, its culture and the role.

We will only put a candidate forward if they’re positively engaged in the process, and actively seeking to pursue an interest in taking the role.

We’ll check ‘hygiene factors’ of course – Package, location, career plans, etc.

This of course takes time, knowledge and understanding, but it is vital in drawing up a relevant pool of candidates for the client to select for interview.

How to conduct an interview the Barron Williams way

We interview first. This helps us and the candidates. 

If we recommend client interviews, we agree on the criteria with our clients and allow them to observe as well as interact with the candidates.

This allows us to establish an accurate candidate appraisal – We can both observe and interact.

The candidate gets to listen to the client talk about the role and opportunity.

The client can be as active or as passive as they wish, of course, but our aim is to allow them to compare candidates effectively, and ultimately, make the best selection decisions for the next stage of the process.

The agenda for the first interviews for the recent GM role we placed was as follows.

We use a semi-structured format:

  1. Introductions
  2. Current Position
  3. Recruitment Process
  4. Role Introduction & Key Requirements
  5. Candidate CV Discussion
  6. Additional Questions from the Client
  7. Additional Questions from the Candidate
  8. Next Steps & Timings – Recruitment Process

We always like to know:

  1. What do you know of the organisation? Show you’ve done your homework.
  2. What attracted you to the role? Show your motivation and why you’re interested.

In terms of what we’re looking for from the questions asked, we want to hear about the relevant experience that matches you to the brief.

In this case:

  • Experience in relevant manufacturing processes
  • Experience in similarly-sized organisations
  • Experience at GM level or equivalent – Leadership & Change Management
  • Match to Key Responsibilities – In this case, Engineering (Design and R&D) and Operations.

The first interview gives Barron Williams and our client the opportunity to further determine potential success within the role. 

It also allows us to understand the clients’ requirements more fully.


Hearing the client talk about the role of different people identifies common themes and priorities.

Each role, and therefore interview structure, is different and must be tailored individually.

Those successful at the first interview will then be invited for a second, where we can really focus on the more in-depth questions, the deciding factors, etc.

It will go deeper than the first stage and it will also often include psychometric testing and presentations and meetings with key client stakeholders, etc. 

Day to day, we focus on building a knowledgeable relationship between all involved. 

We take the time to fully understand our clients business and requirements.

When approached with a new brief, clients often have a good idea about the type of person they’re looking for, but there is often a lot of unasked questions.

Companies will come to Barron Williams because we can support them in shaping and managing the grey areas of the role, round out the brief to appeal to the widest pool of talent, including those not currently active in the market.

Our expertise and insight in how to market the role to attract the very best candidates is the know-how that clients are looking for.

Create a rubric vs meet the standard

Interview Rubrics are one of the fundamental building blocks of the modern recruitment process.

The CV is still the main tool at the start of the screening process. 

A good one is imperative. 

Done well, it will get us to pick up the phone and talk to you, hence why it’s vital you tailor it to the brief…

We know what to look for. 

We don’t need AI to screen CV’s. 

Work with us.

We know how to conduct an interview.

Our experience ensures we provide a consistent and fair candidate screening process. 

If you’re on the provisional long list, we will call.

We will always have spoken to you prior to putting you forward for a role.

When it comes to interviews, at whatever stage, we use a robust interview rubric to ensure we consistently ask the same series/types of questions. 

It is a simple system that scores all candidate interview responses against the same set of criteria outlined in the role brief. 

Semi-Structured interviews are effective and allow us the scope to investigate the broader aspects of the role.

The criteria are designed to evaluate if the candidate has exactly what we (Barron Williams and our client) are looking for.

By incorporating interview rubrics into the recruiting process from the start, we are ensuring that we are only presenting our clients with quality long and short lists. 

Our interview rubrics eliminate bias by ensuring consistent questioning, ranking and analysis of each candidate.

Know what you’re selling vs. know what you’re buying

Back to the point we made at the start of this article; when it comes to how to conduct an interview, preparation is essential…

1. Do your research

It is important that we all take the time to do thorough research. 

Candidates on the company – It is a courtesy as well as important for you.

Clients on the individual they’re interviewing.

With Barron Williams helping to support/facilitate all.

Candidates need to know about the company and the people you’re interviewing with. 

This demonstrates that you are serious about the role.

Clients need to know about each candidate before they meet them. 

We will brief them on our earlier conversations with you.

First impressions still count, whether it is on the phone, video or in person. 

The better the research and preparation, the better the impression we will all make on the people doing the interviewing/being interviewed.

2. Pre-interview prep call

We usually arrange a prep call prior to the client interview, unless we’ve covered that ground during the first stage, but we’re always here to help you prepare.

That is what we are here for…

This is why we spend the time we do getting to know the client and building a partnership, and why we would never put a candidate forward for an interview without having the right conversations with them first.

We have valuable information on the client or candidate that can be useful in your preparation for the interview. 

Spending a few minutes talking with us helps both client and candidate prepare.

This leads us on…

3. Prepare prepare prepare those questions/answers

Being prepared for and preparing a variety of questions is the key to a good interview. 

These should be constructed around the brief and look to establish if the candidate ticks all the right boxes. 

Candidates can use the role brief as a guide to establish what they want to say and how they will best demonstrate their match to the requirements.

We are looking to see if you can deliver the key deliverables?


By asking where you’ve done similar.

Candidate profile?

Have you worked in the right places/roles to gain the required experience?

Have you the right qualifications (if required)?

Do you have the right length of time and experience in relevant roles?

We’ll go through your CV to find the match but don’t be shy!

4. Put your best foot forward

Buying or selling, that opening intro should always be confident and professional. 

From the start, behave as you would in post.

Make eye contact, engage.

The intro is what sets the tone for the duration of the interview and (hopefully) the rest of the process.

Keep it concise. Keep it relevant. Here on business!

6. Ask the right questions and answer questions the right way

Candidates should always be ready with their own questions. 

Have some ‘meaty’ ones…

What’s the biggest threat to your strategy?

What would your clients or competitors say is your organisations’ greatest weakness?

When you’re asked questions, give examples.

Demonstrate past behaviour to show that you can do the job and that you’ve done it before.

And remember, the recruitment process and interview(s) is always a 2-way street.

Be prepared.

Demonstrate you’re a good fit.

Know the company

Know the sector

Know the challenges

Use Barron Williams to brief you on the culture and background.

Clients work with us to develop the necessary questions that compare the best vs. the best. 

We need to hear great examples of how candidates have demonstrated skills pertinent to the role and organisation. 

Candidates should be a STAR when it comes to how to conduct an interview

One great method we picked up from an HR Director client was the STAR method. 

  1. Situation
    Briefly set the scene and give the necessary details of your example.
  2. Task
    Describe what your responsibility was in that situation and what you decided to do.
  3. Action
    Explain exactly what steps you took to address it.
  4. Result
    Share what outcomes your actions achieved. The good (the bad and ugly).

It is useful for answering any behavioural questions such as the: 

  • Tell me about a time when… 
  • What do you do when…
  • Have you ever…
  • Give us an example of…
  • Describe a situation which… 

In fact, it is a great way to answer any interview questions where examples are needed.

Plus, examples of what you’ve done are much more powerful than theoretical responses.

It is a straightforward format that you can use to provide a real-life example of how you handled a certain situation in the past.

STAR provides the framework to help you keep things interesting and structured.

How you react will demonstrate how you’re likely to perform in the new role.

The best are able to articulate their experience and demonstrate they’re a match to the role brief.

Structured responses to open questions about past behaviour can be extremely powerful… Be good at it!

If you’re looking for a senior executive for your organisation, please use our Client Upload Form or Call Us now.

If you’re looking to find or apply for a new role, then please feel free to Upload Your CV or Call Us for an exploratory conversation.

Barron Williams

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